Back home from Thanksgiving, I finally started to watch Sherlock, the Cumberbatch version, after months of promising a friend I would watch it. Half an episode in, I abandoned the show. Even my new crush on Prince Harry is put aside (and how cute!). Why? They have nothing to do with the musical Hamilton. I finally downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack before I left for my parents' house for Thanksgiving, so I would have something besides podcasts and Taylor Swift to listen to on the drive. What the hell was I waiting for? The album has been out since September. I wasted two months! There are two Nicole's - one before discovering Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda and the one after.
It's popularity is expansive - except for a random day in January and May, it's sold out until June. And then prices range from 400 (the cheap seats!) to 1200 bucks for a ticket. I want to go to New York just to see this. I've never been so interested in our founding fathers or American history. I listened to the album straight through on the drive back to my hometown. It's two and a half hours, so by the time I repeated all of Jonathan Groff's songs a couple of times each, it lasted my entire drive. I laughed, I cried. All in the span of three hours and based on a musical I knew almost nothing about going in. The album was 20 bucks, twice as much as I thought it would be, but the best 20 bucks I spent all weekend.
There are a lot of thoughts and probably multiple blog posts on this thing. I spent an hour this afternoon watching Ham4Ham and Lin-Manuel videos. I went from zero (oh Hamilton sounds interesting, those Buzzfeed posts are nice) to eleven (OMG what is Leslie Odom doing right now) in the span of a week.
Some initial thoughts:
- Do not listen to Hamilton for the first time on your way home for an extended period of time. Your skin will crawl, you will get frustrated. Why does my family expect me to talk about work and school and love life? I just want to talk about Alexander! I just want to watch Youtube videos of the cast!
- Buzzfeed is a good way to kill time at work between meetings but this is the first time it's ever been anything more than that. This list about the steps to Hamilton addiction are startling accurate. I'm just now reaching the 'depressed about not being able to see the original cast' stage and hoping it swiftly transitions to the 'I'l see it one day!' stage. My love for Lin-Manuel is still in its early stages but he seems committed to allowing those of us whose location and/or pocket book prevent us from seeing the thing, from his Ham4Ham shows to this recent announcement of plans to film it. Yes please!
- I was years late jumping on the Wicked bandwagon (it gained popularity in 2003 while I didn't get on board until 2006). In sophomore year of college, my sorority sisters and I drove to a nearby town to see an opera. The whole way there, we listed to Wicked. Not the opera we were going to see, but Wicked. This was my first real introduction to the show. Two hours in a car with geeky college girls, everyone singing along at the top of their lungs but me. More intrigued by the witch story than the opera we saw (Don Quixote), I found a copy of the cast recording as soon as I got back to my dorm room. Weeks later, I had all the songs memorized and my mom was hooked too. We went to Chicago that December for my birthday to see the show. My entire birthday and holiday break were centered around that trip to Chicago to see Wicked. It was amazing, defying expectations. Unlike Hamilton, most of the Wicked plot takes place outside the songs, so you really need to see the musical to understand the story and the songs. New worlds were opened to me after that evening in Chicago. Then I came back to college. Time passed and the Broadway faction of the sorority got together for another show again. This time, I finally felt like I was really in the fold. I had seen Wicked! Only to find out I was the only one. These bitches had been singing along to "Defying Gravity" and "Popular" for literally years without seeing the damn show. What the hell? I thought we all were seeing the show!?!? I felt hoodwinked. I had gone out of my way to see the show and I'm the only one? Everyone else is just content with bee bopping to the friggin' soundtrack? Am I not doing this right? Is this not how you be a Broadway geek? Unlike Wicked, Hamilton is much more accessible. The songs cover the plot, the emotional advances, the character changes. Whatever isn't in the songs must not be important because those 46 albums on the soundtrack get through the play. But hey, at least I'm only three months late on the Hamilton bandwagon!
- Every presidential candidate in the 2016 election should be required to see Hamilton. Obama has already seen it twice! Afterwards, the candidates should have a debate. Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Rubio, all of them. First, it demonstrates, through Alexander Hamilton, the role of immigrants in the creation of our country. How necessary their voice and intelligence and perspective is. Hamilton wasn't a rich, well to do boy with a bunch of friends and family in his corner. He was a poor, orphan immigrant. Maybe even a whore's son, definitely a bastard. And look what that fucker accomplished! He had his shot and he took it. The country and Hamilton built each other up. It also demonstrates what our country was at the beginning - a bunch of kids who had no idea what the hell they were doing. Not giant corporations, not moguls. Kids. Another theme of the musical is having ideas and visions and values and using those things to build something that will outlast you, building a legacy. Not acting like you have a small dick and putting your name on everything, but really creating. Aaron Burr is the closest thing the play has to a villain and his biggest fault is that he doesn't have the ideas or the values, he just wants to be part of the powerful group making the choices. Hamilton gets it, he knows that you need goals and values to drive yourself. You can't change your stance every other week based on the poll results. One needs ideals and beliefs to lead well. And you need to be intelligent, another theme of Hamilton. Dude was smart. He has a way with words and can manage abstract and complex thinking. He is ambitious. Accepts help when needed (it takes a village, even to get him to college!). it's his wife, not him, who tells his story. He's a complex, flawed guy. American history and ideals aside, the other reason Trump and Rubio and Sanders need to see this - the importance of creativity and creative freedom. I have a STEM degree and a STEM job and that's great, but everyone deserves the chance to inspire and be inspired. In an interview, Miranda said his biggest goal was to inspire others like he had been inspired when he was younger. Where's the next great author? Singer? Poet? He is going to inspire all these people. Where's the next Andrew Lloyd Webber? Sondheim? Lin-Manuel Miranda? And sure, tickets are expensive, but they're also giving away cheap ones every through Ham4Ham! You can't cut arts and music and theater. What are the long term effects of this musical? The interest in the start of our nation? The founding fathers? How many lives is this damn thing going to change?
- The size of Hamilton is impressive. He has more words than King Lear, Othello, or Macbeth, though still less than Hamlet - guy talks a lot. Additionally, Fivethirtyeight took a different perspective. Hamilton has to be rapped, not just for thematic and styling purposes but also length. If sung at Oklahoma paces, the thing would last almost six hours.
- The women are awesome. Yeah, they're primarily around to tell Hamilton's story, but so is literally every other character. It's the title of the effing musical! Angelica is a complete, complex woman. She has entire songs devoted to her feelings and conflicts! She takes responsibility for her family and does what needs done. Alexander's companionship and intelligence is something she struggles with. Also, the women go downtown not to find a dude but to be a part of the revolution, prompting Jefferson to include ladies in the sequel. Even Eliza does awesome things once Hamilton is gone, from creating a private orphanage in New York to generating funds for the Washington Monument.
- The Fucking American Dream! Is there anything more American than Hamilton's story? Born to immigrants in squallor, then immigrates himself to New York. Pulls himself up by his bootstraps, with some help from the community he left behind. Gets an education and quickly rises through Washington's ranks. As Burr would say, this immigrant, whore's son becomes a huge author in the United States, drafting a future we are still living today. Also, "There's so much that I haven't done!" This idea that one shouldn't be judged by their pedigree or their parents or even their degree, but their accomplishments. Hamilton repeats it multiple times, trying to stamp down his parents' stigma. Don't judge me by my parents or other ancestors or race or religion. Judge me by my accomplishments. Could it be any more relevant today?
- Aaron Burr is in love with this British Officer's wife. Like everything else, he takes a backseat while Hamilton urges him forward. Their entire relationship and competition, is characterized by Burr waiting for the chance to fall in his lap while Hamilton pushes forward. In this case, Hamilton doesn't understand why Burr won't go after the lady he loves. Hamilton goes after whatever he wants, whether it's a Schuyler sister or a federal plan or cannons, he goes after what he wants and, more often than not, gets it. Burr, on the other hand, is on the sidelines, trying to get in on the action, but also waiting for someone to put a tiara on his head. He doesn't totally understand what allows Hamilton to possess this power but he knows that he wants it. He wants to be in the room where it happens. He's just envious. As demonstrated by "Room Where it Happens" and "Election of 1800," Burr has no ideas or values, no reason to be in the lead, just grand abitions and dreams. And the one time Hamilton waits and Burr takes action, Hamilton dies.
- Wait For It - There is a helluva lot of death in this place. It starts in the first act, with Burr announcing he shot him in the opener and Hamilton referring to death as a memory. Then there's his mother's death and all the deaths in the war. Then Phillip. All the while, Hamilton keeps treating death like a memory and writing like he's running out of time. Death is a driver for some characters, maybe even Hamilton. A reason to get shit done and keep working non-stop. Burr, on the other hand, has had stuff handed to him. He's got smarts and money. He views his own survival as a reason for the fates to have selected him, reason to just sit back and wait. But as Hamilton tells him, you have to stay in the game or you get nothing. But Burr doesn't see that. He thinks there's a time and place for everything and eventually it will be his turn. But this is bullshit, as evidence as Hamilton, some one who waits for now one, who takes his own chances. Stealing bombs and getting women. They're diametrically opposed - is fate something you create or something that happens to you? Even Hamilton's big failure, his marital infidelity, even then, Hamilton takes the lead, announcing the affair in the Reynolds Pamphlet to do what he thinks is right and own the story, not sacrifice his great name.
- The Reynolds Phamphlet is awesome. This new group of leaders has the power. They don't know what to do with it, as evidenced by their attempted ambush on Hamilton and the pathetic 'uh, yeah.' But Hamilton quickly takes back control, admitting to his indiscretions and taking away whatever power those jackasses had. Hamilton doesn't want to sully the name, like when Washington's name was being drug through the mud by Lee, but he does sacrifice his wife and children to save their name. It's all about legacies and reputation.
- King George. I like Jonathan Groff, but this character is still perfect and hilarious. From his common 'ta da da' refrain to his reactions to the upstart of a nation - you can step down?
- Overall talent is amazeballs. These people have great control over their voice and, from what I've seen on Youtube, the dancing is equally awesome.
- Each song has a purpose, from furthering the plot and building the emotion of the various characters. The closest to a filler song is the Blow Me Away. While it was nice to see how fatherhood affected Burr and Hamilton, especially given future importance of these kiddos, it was the least impactful for me, most forgettable.
- I finally care about America History! Wow, two party systems popped up quickly. Also, sex scandals popped up quickly and were way more important than they had any right to be. I wonder if we cared as much about Hamilton's brain as his dick? Would he have been president? How would his legacy differ? How would our country be different? Everything from this era sets precedence. It's difficult to determine the ripple effect of all these actions at such a pivotal, exciting place of our country experiment. Ditto for every other over-emphasized sex scandal in our nation's history. Hamilton's affair is like Howard Dean's Scream. Some minor thing to end the presidential hopes of a candidate. Where is this shit for Donald Trump? Where is his Reynolds Pamphlet or crazy speech? Hasn't he had a dozen of those?
- What will history think of them is a constant concern for the characters of Hamilton. This is especially interesting from an audience's perspective. We know! Dramatic irony and all that. And we are, at the moment, at a point of great change and revolution. Though are we ever not? Obama is finishing his presidency. In twenty years, how will he be viewed? Can we know until then? Historical perspective is a unique lens from which to view the musical. Aaron Burr is a fucking foot note. A Trivial Pursuit question - who killed Alexander Hamilton? Wasn't that in a Got Milk? commerical? Then there's what Eliza has created - aside from her husband's legacy, there's the orphanage and the Washington monument and her husband's story.
- The levity and humor is nice. The cabinet battles and King George. It's fun and energetic. When it gets too serious, it's addressesed as Jefferson asks if we can get back to politics after the death Hamilton's son.
- There are several not-so-subtle jabs at our current politics systems - the focus on by the party lines and 'kinda draining' door to door elections. And the love for Burr - it has nothing to do with his ideas or views but you can have a beer with him and he doesn't seem as elitist as Jefferson. Very similar to what's going on in our own elections.